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I think the real innovation lies in shipping and online purchasing. Imagine a site that has its current stock and very informational pages about their plants, animals, driftwood, rock, equipment, etc. If someone were to nail shipping of fish/plants in a way that was guaranteed stress-free and grows during the process that would be a total game changer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Managing the cost of shipping would be a trick. Material goods is a snap and the shipping

Plants would be easy and certain other species may work without making it cost prohibitive, but when you are talking livestock, I think most people want to go to a shop and see the creature in person, see that it is healthy, see that the caretaker is interested in making sure all of the living things they have in their care are healthy, and that the pricing is fair.

I agree, if I could culture in a warehouse and be able to [censored][censored][censored][censored] worldwide without a heavy impact on the life of the animal that would be a game changer, but without a teleporter I am not sure how to accomplish that.
 

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A mom came into the local fish store (LFS) last week and announced that her daughter wanted a fish. As in give us a bowl and a goldfish and we're taking it home. Oh, and we will go somewhere else if you don't have it. I didn't lurk around to follow the rest of the transaction. But over 25 years ago when I worked at the local fish store some of the customers were unwilling to spend more than $50.00 to start a tank right. The tank itself is cheap but the filter could kill the deal. Or sometimes they would just go without it. I never encountered the mom that said my daughter wants an aquatic plant. Now that would change the game.

Fish stores will try to sell you all sorts of snake oil water conditioners and additives. When really all you need is to either dilute your water with RO water if it's too hard or add GH booster if it's Calcium deficient and sometimes you need to add a pinch of Sodium Bicarbonate. Yet I only know one LFS that sells GH booster and they don't sell RO water. That same store has two bottles of Seachem Phosphate with the old label gathering dust on the shelf because nobody is buying it. And it's not like they can just start selling dry ferts. "Here is your pound of KNO3 Mr. Terrorist Man, good luck with your tank!" Besides liquid ferts are probably more profitable anyway. But still, nobody is buying the Phosphate. I guess everybody is overstocked with fish.

I went to Petco the other week to get some snail free plants. My water was too hard (270 mg/l CaCO3) so I asked the fish guy why it is recommended you should have soft aquarium water and he didn't know. They don't know about the chalk content of water and it's relationship with pH and dissolved CO2 because none of their customers care about that. Their customers just want a bowl and a goldfish and some fish food and that's pretty much it. Consumer demand (or lack of it) is what drives the mediocrity at the fish store.
 

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The other thing I've found is that even within 'experts' in aquariums, there are a lot of things to be an expert in.

There are plant experts, SA cichlid experts, African cichlid experts, LAKE specific experts, live bearing experts, egg layers, salt water fish, corals, inverts (salt or fresh) etc. etc.

I have yet to meet even the best store owner that is able to touch on all of those areas, usually they have one or two in that list, but never all.

You'd almost need to have half a dozen staff just to stay on top of the subject matter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I worked in a pet store many years ago and completely understand what you are saying. The ignorance on both sides of the industry is stunning. It just seems there are people out there with knowledge who love the hobby and there is no place for them (us). Perhaps it is a dream to have a profitable shop in that sense. At the same time, I am hearing that you are actively looking for a brick and mortar place to go when you want or need something and either don't want to wait or happen to be out shopping and see a place that might, by some miracle, have what you are looking for.

Soft water? Is that like soft rock? Get out of here old dude. I have a whisper over the back filter to sell and an insane markup.

I have a hard time believing that a fish store can't be honest, dedicated to the health of living things and still be profitable. Especially since there is an online market that even if not perfect, seems to be falling into the same sorts of issues with the brick and mortar scene. A total crapshoot of whether or not you are going to get a healthy specimen.

Is there anyone out there who has owned a shop and can speak to this?
 

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My biggest issues with lfs are lack of information and lack of variety. Don't get me wrong the lfs's (i'm lucky to have a dozen or so non chain stores within a 30 minute drive, about half salt, half fresh) have a decently knowledgeable staff, and try and label things and try and carry a wide variety of products... but it's very very very hard to compete with shopping online for small hard goods. It's mostly not even the price difference, I don't mind paying extra for something as long as it's reasonable, and extra dollar for a packet of food, sure, 3-5 dollars for driftwood/ornaments/etc no problem, just don't insult my intelligence by charging double; I digress; mainly it's hard to afford to keep 10 brands of heaters, 20 brands of filters, every light type, intensity, coloration, complexity under the sun and still have decent sales turn over AND appeal to the wide variety of fish keepers. Some want just bare minimum, others want over the top, some fall in between. And this is where the lack of information comes in. You can't put a cheap led light on the shelf next to a quad T5-HO fixture without some product information to educate the new comers and the old timers alike; something as simple as basic/intermediate/advanced sections, or low light/high light with a brief explanation of why to go each way... same with filters, a brief description of cycling a tank and filter maintenance would go a long way on the shelf to educate the public; it's all fine and dandy to ask a store clerk for assistance; but alot of people are too independently minded to do that

Limited variety of livestock is actually not a huge issue for me as just about everyone of the lfs around here will place custom orders or put you on a waiting list and call when something comes in

Too much stuff gets set on the shelf and left for someone to figure out for themselves

The other thing that drives me nuts is as a knowledgeable aquariast I need to walk around the store with my phone out half the time. Sure the plants/fish are labeled but there is next to no information about them... i.e. size requirements/temperaments/growth characteristics/light and co2 requirements/ etc, one of the lfs around here has info sheets displayed for some of their stock, and i understand that it would become unruly to have a long description of each fish next to the tank, but a video screen in each isle that cycles through what's in stock would be neat, or a qr code to take you to the relevant information, or SOMETHING. This is one of the few things i like about petco/petsmart is the little fish id cards they use

Also I would LOVE TO BE ABLE TO BUY PRE CYCLED FILTERS, get a bunch of the various size filters and a big old vat of media (think live rock tank at a reef store), dose the tank with ammonia and let it do it's thing, advanced aquarist would love being able to get ready to go media in a pinch, and the new tank owners would be getting something that was beneficial to their fish

Something else that I always though would be cool to see is a sand box... basically a place with some 2 sided tank mock ups (10,20,55) so you can try out arrangements of driftwood/rocks before you take them home. I'm sure if I asked I could use the actual for sale tanks, but I'm always nervous that I would break something
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Now that is some honest real feedback! Thank you! So riddle me this, why in this day and age with all of the technology at our finger tips there aren't computers in a lfs? Say you want to know about a fish, there's an app for that. Or at least there could be very easily at your finer tips at a kiosk in a store. Same with all of the products. This is my whole point, even the chain stores are still stuck in the stone age when it comes to retailing this stuff out. Even the websites for most every store I have seen are not the least bit good.

I know the philosophy used to be that all the species in one row were supposed to be compatible, so the lower row were docile, the middle row were semi aggressive and the top row were aggressive, but I don't see that being followed much anymore. It could be as simple as having symbols with a chart to show you what is what. This plant likes this temp range, needs this amount of light, co2, what have you. Or how about QR codes? Sure you have the issue of needing to have your phone out, but a quick snap to be taken to an information page through a QR would be cool.
 

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Well you identified a niche in the market with this thread. If someone were to compile and print little brochures or cards with the the little aspects to fish keeping in concise form, they should have a good reception. Same with an in-store fish info booth/PC. You are much more likely to buy x fish, if you know you have a tailored guide on caring for it, in hand. Same with explaining setting up a tank, or examples of hardware, and their most optimal application. Those glass cabinet ADA tanks are a good example of how to educate the public hands on, if they walk into a store and saw one of those.
 

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The customer base is too broad. Their are so many niches or facets to this hobby. I have friends that have kept fish for decades that never seen a proper aquascape until I showed them a few websites a few years back. Everyone is trying to cater to the masses with the FW side. A little of this a little of that etc... Im not in the business so I wont speculate as to why. The SW side seems to have moved mostly to reef setups. Seems like the natural progression on that side of the hobby.

Seems like the sw side have a customer base that is willing to spend the money for a proper setup compared to the FW side. It would make sense as to what those stores seem to have tanks more presentable. Some of the large chains here that do mostly fw have some 500-600 tanks all stocked with different fish. How can they possibly know every individual species needs.

I also think that the future of this hobby will be driven by online sales when it comes to the dry goods if that already isn't the case. Problem is that the livestock options are so vast that being able to keep 100's of different species under one roof is always going to present challenges.

I dream of a day where the customer can go directly to the whole seller or breeders that specialize in the particular breed of fish your looking to buy.
 

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I live within driving distance of enormous places like That Fish Place in Lancaster Pa, Aquarium Center in Clementon NJ, Absolutely Fish in Clifton NJ, Fishtown USA in Ramsey NJ; and a handful of much smaller stores. These places have been there for as long as I can remember. But they all have different approaches to how to make a buck, how they market themselves, how they maintain their stores, etc. etc. etc. The lesson learned: Go big or stay in the basement.

Filipem hits a key point and the biggest obstacle to someone thinking about opening a store: You can't please 'em all. The few smaller stores that I've seen survive lately know they can't pay the rent, or buy groceries, with 2,000 gallons of water in the place. They all provide maintenance services, custom installations, and in some cases sell fish on-line. Yes, Aquabid and Ebay: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and beat 'em.

I sell my fish to a handful of places that just drive me nuts the way they stock their tanks. Clean and as neat as a pin; but Bala sharks, gouramis and a stingray in a tank of jumbo angelfish?

Most stores segregate their stock pretty well. Tetras, platies, guppies, SA cichlids, Africans. etc. all have their designated areas. It doesn't take much to figure out what the owner knows best if you just step back and see what gets the most real estate and is probably the owner's real knowledge base. The failure in these cases is in not realizing that most stores can't be all things to all hobbyists. So they don't enlist the right help nor offer to listen to advice. They end up treating the store like it's that awesome 180G tank full of africans they've had in the den for the last 6 or 7 years and feel the urge to go into business.......without a clear plan of how they will survive and pay the rent and still put groceries in the fridge. They all start out thinking they can do a better job than the store a few miles away and end up floundering and close up.
 

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Maybe a warehouse style "farm" on 5-10 acres, with rows of "greenhouses" of fish.

Such diversity is a key issue as mentioned previously. I am fond of nano species and tanks and dwarf shrimp. Many (not implying all) of the independant lfs know little outside of their favorite groups of fish. Good experienced help is hard to find too. Training seems limited at lfs as well.

It is difficult to find anyone who deals in nano fish, which just highlights the difficulties of producing and carrying fish for the masses / bulk of the buyers, say like a walmart fish store (which should never carry half the fish they do). I bet it really pans out to half of the fish and money spent in FW are bought by serious hobbyists which might spend more money for specific items and then the other half newbies which buy more quantity of fish and meds which = $ since they die so often due to poor care handling at the store level, and wrong kinds of fish sizes and stock combinations.

Frustrating - YES!!! :)

Who can afford to make a better fish store? It seems logical some one would.

Thinking off the top of my head Wet Spot. They ship and are available all over by using online store to customer resources like aquabid. (Haven't personally been there to the physical store but hear nice reports.)
 

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You're talking about a niche hobby within a niche hobby that already has trouble sustaining itself. That is why there have been so many lfs that have opened and closed in our area. It costs money to bring in the nice stuff, and not enough people know or care about it enough to create a demand. My favorite couple shops here in Denver and its suburbs closed in the past several years. Lately I enjoy Aquatic Dog. While not a perfect lfs, to me, they're unlike any other I've seen in our area. Special livestock I've not seen in any lfs around here, live plants in almost every tank, clean, use of leds, etc. But I think I will be impossible to please because what I expect now is to walk in to a store front and expect the variety, quality, and availability of an online store, which just isnt a possibility for a small, local shop. You'd need the money of a huge corporate chain, but the knowledge of a dedicated lfs, which just isn't gonna happen.

I think you've expressed everyone's wants, but in the end, it's really just probably not something that can be pulled off in our area/country unless the hobby suddenly EXPLODED. But no demand = we're stuck w/ what we have.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I agree in some ways, but I also disagree that a place like Denver couldn't sustain an lfs that did things in a new way. I don't see anything happening in the local scene to build interest in the hobby. I am sure that is not the case in other places. I mean even the Denver Aquarium is lackluster. If there was any store here actually helping people understand the truth about the hobby, things would be different. Many folks here may argue differently, but unless you are trying to achieve exceedingly complex results, it is not difficult or expensive to keep fish or grow plants. Certainly you can spend a fortune, but most of what is being sold is unnecessary and the lack of education on both sides is making it difficult for the layperson to pursue the hobby.

And this is what I am talking about. We have a The Colorado Aquarium Society. There are a dozen shops not counting the mega chains. There are countless people shopping online and looking for the best deal or the rarest specimen, and the LFS is running it's wheels with the same style and business model from 25 years ago.

If I had the backing or the cash, I would open a shop and bring the LFS into the 21st century. Social Media, Marketing strategies, data models, software, internet, all these things can be applied with little cost. How may shops do you go into where the only example of a fish tank is the picture on the box? Hell, at least in a tattoo shop they have a photo album with examples of tattoo's.

This is most evident with the planted tank hobby. Live plants are the most ignored, least understood and hardest to find (quality vs. price) aspect of the hobby. Aquascapes are some of the most beautiful examples of what can be accomplished yet I have never once seen this advertised or offered as an example in the LFS.

I need to win the lottery....
 

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I agree in some ways, but I also disagree that a place like Denver couldn't sustain an lfs that did things in a new way. I don't see anything happening in the local scene to build interest in the hobby. I am sure that is not the case in other places. I mean even the Denver Aquarium is lackluster. If there was any store here actually helping people understand the truth about the hobby, things would be different. Many folks here may argue differently, but unless you are trying to achieve exceedingly complex results, it is not difficult or expensive to keep fish or grow plants. Certainly you can spend a fortune, but most of what is being sold is unnecessary and the lack of education on both sides is making it difficult for the layperson to pursue the hobby.

And this is what I am talking about. We have a The Colorado Aquarium Society. There are a dozen shops not counting the mega chains. There are countless people shopping online and looking for the best deal or the rarest specimen, and the LFS is running it's wheels with the same style and business model from 25 years ago.

If I had the backing or the cash, I would open a shop and bring the LFS into the 21st century. Social Media, Marketing strategies, data models, software, internet, all these things can be applied with little cost. How may shops do you go into where the only example of a fish tank is the picture on the box? Hell, at least in a tattoo shop they have a photo album with examples of tattoo's.

This is most evident with the planted tank hobby. Live plants are the most ignored, least understood and hardest to find (quality vs. price) aspect of the hobby. Aquascapes are some of the most beautiful examples of what can be accomplished yet I have never once seen this advertised or offered as an example in the LFS.

I need to win the lottery....
The last few sentences hits it on the head. The LFS model is very old, outdated and relies on word of mouth or foot traffic for people to even know your store exists.

To take it a step further, I only see guest speakers at club meetings, auctions, etc. Why don't LFS arrange these events too? Only a handful I;ve ever heard of invite 4H clubs and the like.

Takes a LOT of energy to pull off all of that.

Winning the lottery helps too.
 

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Reading all of these posts, i agree with most all. I frequent Todds Tropical Fish, About Fish, Aquatic Dog, and Fish Den. They are all nice shops...

-Fish Den having the largest fish selection IMO. They sometimes do carry some montecarlo, glosso, DHG pots.... and some random rotala, ludwigia, and alot of non aquatic species too :(

-Aquatic Dog, as someone else mentioned, does always carry some unique fish including generally a variety of apistos and some unique plecos... Although I can't pay $200 for a golden nugget pleco.

-Generally Todd's and About Fish only stock the most basic wisteria, swords, etc.


About Fish used to have a nice selection of apistos and some unique fish I had never seen anywhere else in stores- and they may still as I haven't been there in over 6 months. I forget the owners name, but I used to always call and ask "Have you gotten in any new apistos?"...

I guess I called too many times to ask that, when looking for a mate for a super red.... and he sounding annoyed, said "No, I don't... Why would I order more when I can't even sell the ones I have?".... As much as I didn't like that answer, its true. The stress of sitting in an empty fish shop where maybe 5 enthusiasts come in to browse a day... and then another crowd of mom/kids come in to wander aimlessly and complain about how they don't want their house to smell like a fish tank.

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All of you who have addressed the issue of Social Media is important too.... And sales? I never seen any tempting sales at these shops to make me want to come in. And the cold hard fact of once you've stocked your aquarium to its max.... I do just come in to BROWSE and nothing more. That aspect of it is a very dead end hobby. Reef shops with their massive frag tanks housing 100s of corals.... that will keep people coming back... but what about plants?

It seems like having an aquarium shop tailoring to plants would be impossible here and bound to shut down, but you see these ADA shops all over Europe/Asia and they flourish. The videos I see of massive aquarium shops, lined with huge BRIGHT GREEN filled tanks is mesmerizing even in video, and unlike anything I have ever seen here in the states. I think possibly one reason the hobby is drowning out here (yes I'm using many puns lol) is because so many people have no CLUE about planted aquariums or the diversity.

Before I was into planted aquariums, I bought a standard 29 gallon and dumped some green gravel and some fake volcanos in there, and added one of every single fish at petsmart I believe..... and then what? I looked at it for a week and was over it. I was bored one day and browsing on Youtube and found Dustin's Fish Tanks, and my lid was blown. How have I never seen this before? This offers continual evolvement of the hobby and a new challenge every day. I can buy 100 plants and try to grow them all.... keep the ones who work well and toss the ones who die. Then repeat over and over. Its ever evolving. It keeps you running to your aquarium every day to see the progress - it offers stimulation to keep a journal and want to tweak crap every single day. Very unlike buying a volcano, redtail shark, and some congo tetras from petsmart.

You see an ADA tank in those shops, and it is so much more than a "fish tank".... it is a section excavated from nature, reminiscent of childhood when you first saw lakes and rivers... when you first swam in a lake and felt the sand between your toes. The LED lights shimmering across the water and plants taking on yellow and orange hues- reminding me of playing outside in my backyard, laying in the grass, in the early morning hours during my summers off from school. THIS is what could turn the hobby into something more mainstream and consistently desirable (and profitable for LFS). But again, how many planted tanks like this do you ever see in our LFS?
 
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